Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

Conservative Idealism and International Institutions

Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

Conservative Idealism and International Institutions

Article excerpt

Like many Anglo-American conservatives, Jeremy Rabkin believes that the European Union ("EU") presents "a serious challenge to American policy aims and American political ideals."1 This argument is timely, for the defense of "American sovereignty" seems to resonate in current US political debates. Uncompromising opposition to any surrender of US sovereignty to international organizations is increasingly widespread these days, particularly on the right wing of the US political spectrum. The question whether US foreign policy should be unilateral or multilateral is emerging as a salient electoral issue. Many critics of international organizations are deeply troubled, moreover, by what they know of EU politics, which they view as presumptively undemocratic and suspiciously concerned about social issues. Since writings by Euroskeptic British Tories wield a powerful and disproportionate influence on conservative opinion about Europe in the United States, it is fitting that William Cash, a Conservative Member of Parliament, head of the Euroskeptical "European Foundation," and a leading public critic of the current terms of British EU membership, joins this symposium.2 Their arguments-a common position that I shall term "conservative idealism"-are worth exploring in detail because they are typical of much contemporary Anglo-American thinking about the EU.

Rabkin makes explicit the threat that many conservatives perceive to be emanating from Brussels. It is two-fold: strong supranational institutions in the public sector and plentiful non-governmental organizations ("NGOs") in the private sector. In the public sector, the member governments of the EU tend to support strong international institutions. As Rabkin puts it: "National governments that submit to a European Court and a European Commission find it easy to contemplate international counterparts that can give direction to other states, without the fuss and bother of parliamentary ratification." European governments, he maintains, tend to

favor autonomous secretariats, independent dispute resolution bodies, and uniform international rules without reservations or exceptions. In the private sector, EU governments promote the participation of NGOs in global governance. In Rabkin's words: "The EU is also a great patron of NGOs for reasons that are closely related to its own structure ... the EU Commission (as well as the European Parliament) have sought to build European-wide constituencies for European policy."3 Rabkin offers three examples: dispute settlement in the World Trade Organization ("WTO"); strong environmental and labor protection; and the International Criminal Court ("ICC"). In each case most EU member governments favor more institutionalized international cooperation, while the United States is somewhat more hesitantostensibly due to pressure from international officials and their clients among the NGOs.

Rabkin views this combination of supranational bureaucracy and transnational mobilization, purportedly sponsored by the EU, as nothing less than "a systematic program of eroding or reconfiguring national sovereignty." In the international system today, this program presents the United States with a "clear ideological alternative." Rabkin warns: "A world more in accord with EU designs will be a world in which national sovereignty has less and less meaning." The issue is clear. "Is that the kind of world Americans want to inhabit?"4 Rabkin asks. His answer is no. The EU's program "is likely to have less appeal for Americans who care about American independence."5 The precise basis for Rabkin's concern about US sovereignty and independence remains vague-a point to which I shall return-but it appears to have something to do with two characteristics of the EU: the perceived lack of democratic control on Brussels bureaucrats who help manage the institution, and the tendency of the EU to regulate social issues, such as environmental protection, human rights, and labor standards. …

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